Dear Miss (Mrs?) Grace Hedgerot,
My name is Harry. I don't know if you know me, since we've never met. However, I recently found out that I was adopted and
I think you're my I believe we might be related. If it's possible I'd like us to meet and get to know each other. Let me know what you think.
"Okay," Harry whispered, lifting his quill. "Alright."
His head was tilted back by freckled hands until he met eyes with his girlfriend. He nodded and accepted her light kiss on his forehead.
"Good job,” Ginny said quietly. “How're you gonna send it? Muggle mail?"
He looked down at the drying ink on the parchment. Then he looked up at the barn owl preening its wings on the window perch.
"So this's how it's done?"
Severus snapped another sprig of dittany and threw it in the saucepan. It was quite the setup he’d been left to, but his heckler couldn’t find any of his cauldrons. Nothing besides the cast iron miniature he once used for his most concentrated poisons.
Apparently, Mother Hedgerot had deemed it a fitting incense burner. So he enjoyed the unique shock of finding it on a trip to the basement bathroom, sitting blithely on a doily on the sink, filled with hot sand, patchouli and frankincense.The potions master dumped the contents into the toilet, burning sticks and all.
The cauldron was too small for his purposes, but iron imbued with nundu breath should never be left to smolder, especially in an unventilated room. It certainly wouldn't make the sister any saner to leave it be.
However, this was hard to explain to said sister without also explaining what a nundu was and all of how it could kill her. So he lied: “It’s made of lead.”
He also made clear a secondary but vehement truth: that incense promoted delusions of grandeur.
"Nobody cares about your quest for alignment. You just can't see how stupid you are through the haze of resinous bull."
He hadn't been joking, but the woman cackled nonetheless.
I'll have to search the house again for more ways the Muggles might kill themselves, Severus thought, when witnessing that manic humor.
It was an irritating thought, Muggle-proofing his home. But him surviving would hardly be easier if they whipped up strychnine while he slept.
He scratched his bandages where the wrapped skin started to regrow. It was so much easier to reach without his long, buttoned sleeves that he was struggling not to tear up his arm chasing relief.
"So this stuff goes on cuts," she asked. Severus sighed, as she'd been dogging him with questions all afternoon.
The ex-con feigned disinterest when he ignored her, then slipped into a thousand yard stare. Then as if escaping some horrible vision, she snapped back to reality with a brand new question. And she wasn't just nosey like the little brat or suspicious like the behemoth. She dug for something in his answers and silences.
It seemed she, like he, wanted relief.
While they unboxed ingredients, she asked what each one was and what it did, fishing for the cure-all. She pestered him throughout brewing the rustic bruise balm, now setting in the fridge. As the day grew long, she grew more agitated, pushing for her potions.
"Yes," he answered blandly. "Boil the plant until the water gets viscous, let it cool, and it'll close most superficial wounds."
"So like, anybody can do it?"
"I dunno, Rev. Just sounds like aloe to me."
"Don't call me that. And it isn't. Dittany comes from the Greek island of Crete. If boiled correctly, according to specific steps, one can draw out its healing properties. It will then soothe minor scrapes without infection. If you want aloe, hack some off from a houseplant."
"And this isn't oogie boogie vegan shit, right? Like it's the real deal?" She peered into the cauldron, sniffing at the steam, and massaged her forearms like she wanted to scratch. Her mysterious wounds must have itched, mirroring Severus.
Her elbow brushed his side and he hissed at her to give him some bloody space. He didn't like how exposed he felt outside of his robes, more comfortable though he was.
She covered up unexpectedly well, in a tent of a sweatshirt and sweatpants. Severus, on the other hand, ended up in navy blue track pants with zippers and racing stripes down the legs, and drowning in an old t-shirt with the local beer touted on the front. His father had likely won it in a pub raffle over twenty years ago, and now Severus wore it, brewing barefoot in his kitchen, looking like a single dad on a Sunday.
He hated it, but at least he could breathe. No thick robes, no collars.
"Are you asking if I'm making this up?,” he rebutted, watching the dried sprigs steep. “Now, we aren't very well acquainted, and while I enjoy that as a consolation and a comfort, pray tell: do I look like I abide by any of that complete trifle?"
He turned from the cauldron to present his stern expression, one hand on his hip while the other stirred. His company hummed.
"But it's just 'cause you come off spooky like Miss Eileen that I'm givin' you the benefit of the doubt," she warned, taking a dried twig and chewing on it.
"You aren't superstitious," he observed.
"Some rubbish ain't worth believin' in. Hey, is this a conversation we're havin'? I think it is."
Severus lifted an eyebrow at the haggard woman and cut off the burner. Taking the saucepan off the heat, he was immediately subjected to the sister's hovering.
"Does it help with pain? I've chewed through most of a bottle of aspirin and it's done jack shit."
"Get away!," he protested, strong-arming her. "It has to cool."
But Severus was a bit overeager himself. By some slip of willful magic, what should've taken minutes to cool took seconds. Hearing the slurp of heat leaving the pot, he held a hand close to the liquid's surface. It chilled to room temperature almost instantly. He tested the viscosity and nodded, finding it adequate—thicker than plain water, but short of a true gel.
"It is finished," he said, and began unwrapping his forearm. Cringing at the gauze peeling off his Splinched skin, the wizard dipped a rag into the essence and patted it over his wound.
This most assuredly breaks the Statute of Secrecy, he mused as his split skin fizzled with murky green smoke. Almost immediately, the wound started knitting together.
"Sick," his onlooker breathed. "Yeah, it's just like when I was little. You're really one of them."
"One of whom, exactly?," he probed in an undertone, bent over his arm, watching it heal.
"A witch—or like, a witch's son."
Severus fought to maintain his composure.
"What did my mother tell you."
"I dunno, nothin'. But what else do you call an old lady with magic grass and secrets? A witch, obviously. Budge over, I want summa the goop."
Straight-backed, he moved aside and looked busy packing away his ingredients. The Muggle woman unraveled her own bandages, elbows cracking, gauze winding around her stiff fingers. Inch after inch of stitched skin arose from the wraps. Spidery black thread formed grotesque crescents, like ants marching up the curve of the scabbing flesh. She took in her own arm and grimaced.
"What happened," hung on the tip of his tongue, but he swallowed it down. He could already hear her obstinate prod, "You first."
"You'll have to remove the stitches, unless you wish for them to become more permanent."
"Aw, damn, probably so," she cursed. "Reverend, you got any tweezers?"
"Uh-uh! Tweezers for wha—Christ, Zed, what happened to your arm?!"
The behemoth brother stood in the entrance to the kitchen, bug-eyed and furious. He glared at Severus who volleyed with an apathetic stare. It wasn't as if he knew anything about the injuries. He just supplied the goop.
"There's no way that's from some random fuckin' fall!,” accused the giant man.
"I didn't say this was from the fall, did I," his sister shot back, spitting her chewed twig into the sink. Severus noticed a level of discomfort in how she addressed her brother, underneath the unfazed airs. It looked like guilt. "I said the seizures were from the fall. These are from the crazy bitch that pushed me over. See, it's different."
Obviously a dodge and a poor one at that.
Severus turned to his cutting board, masking his presence. The leavings of a previous row seemed to bubble up between the siblings. He acted invisible, intending to stay uninvolved, but informed.
You old gossip, teased some lick of conscience.
Simply old habits, he justified.
"Come off it! You said there weren't no fightin', and now it's ‘ah, well, nurse knocked me over.’ What's the bloody truth, Zed?! It's been a day and a half, and you flip out on a guy and act completely psycho, cry about it then act like nothing’s happened! And I know you're lyin' about some fuckin' thing, okay? I ain't stupid."
"Then stop actin' like you ain't never seen a stitch before! Calm down or go away. My head is poundin' and I don't need to be yelled at over somethin' dead and done. Go worry about your precious 'duck.'"
Severus very quietly decanted the essence of dittany into Tupperware. He had a thought about needing to find his vials, but made no moves toward the basement door, lest he be remembered. He just swept debris into his hands and dusted it off into the sink, one ear pressed to the row.
"You can't honestly be jealous of a kid? And don't change the subject! Why're you lyin'?! Mum’s coming home in a few hours, and you better tell her and me the whole truth when gets here.”
”We're worried about you, you maniac!"
"Yeah? Well, don't be."
Severus couldn't suppress his morbid curiosity, especially now knowing his attacker had been attacked. It was likely just some jailhouse brawl, and he shouldn't have been interested in something so base. But the curves of the stitches looked remarkably like bite marks, and he was keen to hear tell of another, even madder woman taking to this one like a dog to a bone.
Small bit of payback for the shoulder? Mayhaps, considered Severus, smirking, cleaning his fingernails.
But then the argument grew repetitive. Various forms of "I can't trust you" and "mother always liked you best" were tossed about until it bored the ex-spy, driving him to search for his vials. The fight carried on like he never even existed, his limping down the creaky steps going unnoticed.
He groped the tracksuit pockets for the lighter he borrowed from its forgotten place on the counter. Finding nothing, he finger combed the hair from his face and pulled his wand from under his shirt.
"Accio vials," he cast. He was treated to several boxes tinkling like wind chimes. Inside them, the trapped vials beat against the cardboard.
Severus mined his belongings from the mountain of trash. While he worked, taking breaks to thumb through old notebooks and unfinished projects, the mother returned home from work. He rolled his eyes at the renewed hollering from upstairs, Silenced the cellar, and kept working.
Alone, charming boxes about the room, he warmed to the grey area his house became. Muggles upstairs, none the wiser; and him out of sight, doing as he pleased. He couldn't use magic freely, but wasn't living in the shadows either. The surly man could admit to preferring brewing openly in his kitchen, even with an audience, to his night spent languishing in the attic, scared out of sleep. If he had to endure some hours of the sister's company, well—she wasn't the worst in the house to talk to.
What does it say about you, Severus, that you accept the one person who's beaten you and none of the ones that pulled her off? But despite his own pitying self-assessment, the man could only think of Lucius calling him a bad friend.
Poor company was his habit. He always felt more comfortable beside bad people. He appreciated someone who knew they were rotten, so there was no play at being better than him. The only exceptions were Lily and Dumbledore. And the latter only believed he was better than Severus. That didn't make it true.
Severus conjured a chair and a biro, and sat editing on old essay he drafted on the tonic hexes. It put his thoughts on poor company from his mind.
I'd have to update some of the references, he mulled over, when breaking the quiet, he heard feet on the stairs. The wizard returned his wand to its hiding place. Then he resumed reading, draft propped on his crossed legs, picking and flicking dandruff from his scalp.
The sister came down the stairs grumbling.
"Too old for this—shit! Rev, you scared the piss outta me!"
"Hm," he grunted, scratching out a word. "Yes, much too old for that. Don't soil my steps."
"Ugh, I’ve not got the energy for your stuffy, holier-than-thou attitude. I've had enough a' that today."
There was a shuffling of slippers and the racket of a body hitting old springs. From the muffled quality of the groan, she’d fallen face first onto the mattress. Severus suffered a peculiar urge to remember her name. Zoey? The brother called her "Zed."
"Zoey," he tried, turning to watch her. She snorted and curled on her side, speaking to the wall.
"Who the hell is 'Zoey,'...git. My name's Zinnia."
Really, a flower name?, he hummed to himself. Zinnias, related to sunflowers, a solitary stem with seeds like arrowheads. When one ground the seeds, it added longevity to any potion affecting the muscles. When one pulverized the petals, it carried subtle poisons from expecting mother to child, for generations.
He remembered their meaning, "thoughts of an absent friend," because he'd felt it hilariously cruel in context. Moste Potente Potions called zinnias the "family bane" for their capacity to end bloodlines.
"Zinnia," he smirked, scratching a jaunty note in the margin. The bud would take some of his brews from hexes to curses, but he liked taking down the thought.
"What," Zinnia rasped back. There sounded a rattle of a pill bottle and more dry gulps. "So it's ironclad that you can't help the pain? Like, not to sound wha'ever, but I'm dyin' here."
"Who isn't. Stop asking. I don't have the ingredients."
There was no response. After a few minutes, he heard the sag of her body losing tension and sinking into the cot. Then Severus had the special treat of reading through her grizzly snores.
"Gods, woman," he shook his head, refocusing on his draft.
In the rest of the house, the evening whiled away into night. Someone called from the kitchen about dinner, but neither party heard it through the Silenced door. Eventually even that charm faded, revealing the true quiet of the settled house.
Severus went into his third reread, checking over his shoulder before conjuring a journal. He began to rewrite his methodology, making notes of what he'd have to redo, when he realized. Zinnia stopped snoring.
He turned in his seat, examining her in her shadowed corner. Sensing something was off, he brightened the lamp overhead. In the bright white of the naked bulb, he saw her back, narrow and still. Her sweatshirt was sweat through and had ridden up, revealing the splotchy-skinned knobs of her spine. He waited for that bruised back to expand with a heavy breath.
No such luck. The woman lay in the cot, in clothes dark with sweat, unmoving.
"Zinnia," Severus called stoutly. No answer.
The potions master shot out of his chair, laying down his draft and reaching for her neck, looking for a pulse. Feeling nothing, he muttered a diagnostic spell picked up by old necessities. An image drew itself in the thick air: a core of cool light fluttered faintly, only just confirming signs of life.
"Idiot, what have you done to yourself?," he griped, keeping her on her side, checking her front for blood or sick.
He saw the white bottle of some Muggle prescription, not aspirin as he knew it, but a word he'd never seen before. He snatched it from the bed and scanned the label, seeing the pill description but nothing about what it did.
"Dammit! Accio bezoars!"
The jar of bezoars slapped against his palm and was quickly upended on the quilt. Severus pried open the sister's slack jaw and guided one of the goatstones down her throat.
"Stupid Muggles, can't look away for a measly few hours. Hurry up!"
He massaged the bezoar along, feeling it slide down towards her stomach, hard pit slipping away as it was swallowed. He desperately spelled fresh air through the basement, wondering idly if this was out of his wheelhouse, if Muggle medicine was too different, and if he should call for help.
I was right here, he thought, stunned. He felt momentarily out of himself, imagining he was already speaking numbly with the paramedics pulling him aside to the curb, making room for the gurney come to cart the body off. I wasn’t more than a few feet away. I was here the whole time, how…
Like a possessed woman, Zinnia heaved back to life. She arched onto her back, lifting off the bed, dragging air into her lungs in a horrible gasp. Severus dove in, grabbing her chin and tilting it up to let in more fresh air, spelling in more, lightheaded himself.
"You idiot!," he cursed, hair falling in his face. Furious. Shaking and furious. "You absolute moron! What the hell did you take?!"
Glassy eyes listed over to his snarling face. A trembling hand hit his cheek and came down to fist his wrinkled t-shirt, shaking him. He grabbed her wrist, squeezing ropes of straining tendon, jerking but unable to wrest himself free. Her vice-like grip pulled him closer, fabric ripping, to meet her giant, yellow eyes.
"Stop! Stop it!," Zinnia begged, tears streaming down onto the sheets. “Please!”
"Let go!,” he barked, struggling. She was insanely strong., too strong for her wasting build. “I'm helping, you—!"
"Help! Help me!"
"I am!" She was too disoriented to realize the wizard was saving her life.
Brutal strength gathered in her terror-clenched fist. He couldn't get free. She was sobbing now, and Severus felt the animal trickle of fear from the day before, when she had lost her mind and kicked him near senseless. He fought to aim his wand, planning to Stun her to gain distance.
He needed space before that berserker fury resurfaced, and she set upon him again.
"Fuck, please! Please! Please, stop heeer!," she howled in agony, throwing Severus from the bed.
He crashed to the cement floor, toppling his chair, salvaged vials falling, shattering around him. He climbed to his feet and looked down at the woman writhing and screaming on the cot, wheezing, frozen with fear.
"Stop her! Somebody! GET HER OOOUT!"
A shuddering growl filled the cellar, and his knees turned to water underneath him. This was wrong. This was deeply, terribly wrong. He wasn't witnessing madness, or at least not a human madness. Rather he had seen real lunacy only once before and, choked with hindbrain horror, knew he was witnessing it again.
"HELP ME!" Her cry fell into a cavernous bellow of blind, bestial rage.
Severus rained down streaks of burning red, shooting Stunner after Stunner as he ran for the stairs. In his panic, some shots missed, scattering along the walls like fireworks. The ones that landed bled off the breaking, morphing body, failing to slow it down.
The flurry of coarse black hair shivered, taking over the growing form tearing from the stained sweats. The head elongated. The spine snapped.
His numb feet pounded up the steps towards the ground floor, taking in ragged splinters from the worn wood. Below him, he heard the metal shriek of the cot collapsing, and looked against his better judgement, riveted in his terror. The beast continued to unfold, limbs stretching and buckling, growing rough, sickle claws that sliced through the mattress, gouging the metal frame like clay.
Then the beast, hearing his resultant shout, turned its great panting head to Severus. The man froze, shot through with ice, his heart drumming as he peered into the cage of vicious teeth and sulfurous drool and lashing, blood-red tongue.
The door above him opened, letting in light from the kitchen. Unable to look away from it, pressed flat against the wall, Severus only saw the edge of a shadow at the top of the stairs.
The voice—the brother.
"GET BACK," Severus hollered. He tore his eyes away and ran, hearing a howl that raised every hair on his body. Noise and wood exploded beneath him as it lunged. "MOVE!"
Severus barreled into the behemoth, bowling the man over. The kitchen cabinets shook when their combined weight slammed onto the linoleum. Severus, every nerve focused on the demonic roar below, whipped out his wand and flung the basement door shut.
The lock clicked with a timid 'snk'.
That won't hold, he knew, and ignoring the brother's frantic questions, he cast ward after ward, laying them down like bricks without mortar, praying he didn't blow them all to hell.
"What's goin' on! What'd you do to her?!"
The Muggle stomped past him and grabbed for the doorknob. Severus swore and hexed it hot.
"AH! Bloody hell?!" It sizzled as it burned the man's palm. Crying out again, he let it go.
Severus used the scant few seconds of confusion to hurl another spell at the door. It turned from white painted wood to iron, hulking great chains like to moor a ship crossing over it, sealed with a clunk by an enormous, iron lock.
This left the brother speechless, as the iron and chains materialized out of nothing. In that precious silence, they heard the monster on the other side roar and slam itself against the gates. The whole wall bucked under its weight. Severus cursed again, hurrying to reinforce it.
Rattled at yet again nearly losing his life, and in the worst way by far, Severus scoffed at the other man’s shock and, exhausted by his efforts, sunk to his knees despite himself. He sat on the floor trembling. He stayed there, struggling for self-control on the naked tiles. Above him, the brother backed away from the shaking door, looking thoroughly spooked.
"What was that?," he asked, hissing, curling his burned hand into his chest. Severus closed his eyes, headache throbbing.
"Your fucking, huh—your sister," he panted. "So, I'm assuming you didn't know."
"Know what?" From her voice, Severus realized the mother had come to investigate the chaos. He heard her astonishment and worry when she moved in front of the new basement door. "The hell…? Where's Zed?"
Just then, the wall shuddered again. The wards lit up like sparklers, fighting the point of impact. Severus needed to rework them before they went off and tore the house down. He had to, once he caught his breath.
"What the fuck is that?!" The Muggles asked in unison.
"Zinnia!," he snapped. As if hearing her name, the beast howled with rage. Every adult in the kitchen shivered. "Your beloved 'Zeddie' is a werewolf."
Greetings, Dear, Hi
It's been a while. I hope this letter finds you well. I hear you're back in England and think that's
a crying sha just neat. Let me know if you'd ever like to catch up. I think you'll find that we've both changed a lot and that's not necessarily a bad thing. Sincerely, My Best,
Thanks for not burning this,
P.S. I’ll probably regret this, but there’s another letter attached. If you happen to know this person, feel free to send it their way.
"Do you think it's going to work?," Ginny wondered.
"Not even a little," Harry replied, handing the two letters to the owl. He also gave it a treat for its troubles, petting its wings while it ate. "But maybe he won't bin it immediately, which would be something. Let's hope he's having a good day."
Harry opened the window for the post owl, thanked it, and watched it fly off. He stayed there in the parlor with his chin tucked in the crook of his arm until the borrowed owl disappeared over the midnight roofs of London.